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Are You Kidding Me? Admitting he had let his team become too lax, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lured Bill Parcells back to the sideline, but can the two egos coexist?

It is hard to picture Bill Parcells in a white polo shirt with a
blue star on the left breast, working the phones in the office
once occupied by Tom Landry. But that's what the new coach of the
Dallas Cowboys was doing last Friday. It's shocking to think that
he has gone into business with one of the biggest micromanagers
in sports, owner Jerry Jones. And for Parcells to be in Texas
after two decades in his beloved haunts back East...well, even
his best friends never believed he'd stray this far from his
roots, not at 61.

But Parcells hasn't changed that much. Sometime in the next
month or so, letters will arrive at the homes of 70 Cowboys
with orders from the new sheriff in town to gather for a
meeting at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters. And as he did
with the New York Giants in 1983, the New England Patriots in
'93 and the New York Jets in '97, Parcells will tell the
Cowboys there are no secrets to winning--it's all about work,
particularly in the off-season.

Last Saturday, between meetings with Jones at the owner's Dallas
mansion, Parcells said, "I'll tell these guys the same thing I
told the Giants: 'The job's here, and you need to be here.'"
From March through June there are 12 weeks of what one former
Parcells player called "voluntary-mandatory" workouts. Four days
a week, 2 1/2 hours a day. Voluntary because players don't have
to participate. Mandatory because if they don't, they'll likely
get whacked from the roster come July. "The biggest wake-up call
for the Cowboys will be when they see how serious Bill makes it
in the spring," says Jumbo Elliott, the Jets tackle who played
for Parcells on both New York teams. "If football is not the
most important thing in your life, he'll weed you out. I've seen
it happen with good players like [Pro Bowl defensive end] Hugh
Douglas. Bill doesn't care."

"That's just what we need," says Dallas safety Darren Woodson, an
11-year veteran who played on the Cowboys' three Super
Bowl--winning teams of the '90s. "Since [coach] Jimmy Johnson
left, the discipline and off-season program have been too
relaxed. Eight or 10 key guys haven't paid enough attention to
getting ready in the off-season. Now that'll change."

Almost nine years have passed since Jones and the autocratic
Johnson parted ways, and it's been six years since Dallas last
won a playoff game. The Cowboys have won a total of 23 games in
four years. A team source said that Dave Campo, fired on Dec. 30
after three seasons as coach, wouldn't push players to attend
organized off-season workouts because he feared they would
complain to the NFL Players Association. (According to terms of
the collective bargaining agreement, teams can schedule only one
mandatory minicamp.) Parcells won't force players to attend these
workouts, but they will all know the consequences if they don't
participate--and they're undoubtedly familiar with Parcells'
record. He took over a Giants team that had gone 4--5 in a
strike-shortened 1982 season, a New England team that had gone
2--14 in '92 and a Jets team coming off a 1--15 season in '96.
Those franchises all made the playoffs in his second season. The
Giants won two Super Bowls. The Patriots got to one. The Jets
reached an AFC Championship Game.

In a rare admission of failure, Jones talked last week like a man
who will use his new $17 million coach to cure the ills that were
created in part by the owner's own excesses--such as moving
training camp to the air-conditioned Alamodome in San Antonio
last summer, a film crew from the HBO Hard Knocks series in tow
and music blaring so loud that it was hard for the players to
hear the coaches. "I admit it: I've been too comfortable, this
team's been too comfortable," Jones said. "When we've won, it's
always been hard. There's been some pain. It's time to freshen up
this organization and make some sacrifices to get to our goal of
winning another Super Bowl."

After being introduced to the media last Thursday, Parcells spent
several hours going over the roster with Jones and his son
Stephen, the team's chief operating officer. It was odd, and
could be troublesome down the road, that Parcells didn't
negotiate final say over all of the organization's football
decisions into his four-year contract, but at the press
conference Parcells and Jerry Jones were saying all the right
things. For this year, at least, Jones is likely to accede to
Parcells' recommendations on all personnel matters.

Dallas could be anywhere from $10 million to $16 million under
the salary cap when the free-agency signing period begins in
February. Parcells is all but certain to sign a veteran
free-agent quarterback, because Chad Hutchinson showed as a
rookie this season that he wasn't ready to be a starter. Just as
likely--and sure to get no resistance from the owner--will be
Parcells' desire to cut loose alltime rushing leader Emmitt
Smith, 33. Also Parcells will want to get bigger on defense,
though he believes more than ever that middle linebackers must be
able to run sideline to sideline.

Parcells will immediately make his presence felt in Dallas. He'll
work the weight room every morning, bantering with players,
getting to know them. He will not prop them up with false
encouragement. After a tough loss in his first season with the
Patriots, he chastised the players, telling them they should not
be satisfied with merely trying to win. "You get paid to try," he
told them. "Don't tell me you tried hard. You've got nothing to
be proud of when you lose."

That's the kind of tough talk that Woodson wants to hear. Last
week he was asked if he thought a majority of his teammates would
be in favor of the new coach's my-way-or-the-highway approach.
"In favor?" Woodson said, chuckling. "They're not going to have
any choice."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN CARROLL MR. FIX IT Parcells' knack for turning around teams was the big reason that Jones (opposite, left) went after him.